Day 1: Traveling and Failing at Japanese
The airport came early. My flight left at 7:05 AM, which meant we needed to get to the airport by 5 AM. I had a layover in San Francisco, where I bout a neck pillow, a big bottle of water, and a $10 bag of jerky (I didn’t know it was $10 until I got to the cashier, but it was too late and I really wanted jerky for my 11 hour flight. Best flight-preparation supplies I’ve ever bought.) After buying them, I went to a Japanese restaurant near my terminal and had a bowl of udon. I was so hungry and it was nice to have a full meal.
I kept running into people with accents in the airport. I saw lots of Japanese people, a man from Frankfurt, Germany asked me for directions, and I sat across from a Scottish man in the terminal. I’m going to have to tone my accent fangirling way down if I’m ever going to survive in Japan.
The San Francisco to Tokyo flight was on a really old airplane. No personal TV screens for each seat and no power outlets. I panicked a little, as I have a hard time not going completely insane even on flights that do have those. It ended up being okay, and was actually the most pleasant overseas flight I’ve had. They played lots of movies and TV shows on the TVs overhead in the aisles. They fed us three full meals, too, in addition to all the drinks, one of which was a cart devoted to coffee and hot tea. I also had a neck pillow, water, and jerky, so…
Japanese customs was a breeze. I had some trouble getting my cellphone service to work. I sent an urgent message to my dad in the airport. Once I got off the train at Kanamachi Station, I would have to call the person I’m staying with in Tokyo (I’m going to call him L, partially to secure his name, and partially because I like Death Note) to come pick me up, so I really needed to have service by then. It got worked out, eventually, but not before I had worked out a Plan B, one where I found the closest Starbucks (lots of Starbucks in Japan) and sent an email to L.
The train is amazing in all ways. Amazingly fast, efficient, clean, safe, quiet, inexpensive, easy to navagate, and the view is beautiful. Two things I have learned so far in Japan are: 1) I need to learn more Japanese and 2) Japan is so beautiful, it makes me want to cry.
My living arrangements are not what I expected. Instead of residing with the other students, I am instead living with L, the teacher, his son (let’s call him S), and another English teacher (we’ll call him R. Warm Bodies, anyone?). To my sleep-deprived, frozen, and severely culture-shocked self, this was the worst news ever. How was I supposed to connect with my fellow students if I was living apart from them? I wasn’t thrilled being the only girl in a house full of boys, either.
I took a bath and soaked in the tub for a long time, being sad but enjoying the warmth.
After my bath, I was hungry, but too afraid to venture forth and find food. I was just going to go to bed, but I met S and R and they offered to take me out to the Chinese restaurant down the street. I wasn’t in the mood to be out and about, but I was hungry and I wanted to get to know the people I would be living with.
Best decision of the day. S and R are very friendly and kind. S talked the most, but they were both talkative and eager to get to know me and to help me in any way they could. On the way back from dinner and the grocery store, S asked me if I was religious at all. I told him I was a Christian, and we talked a bit about Christianity and religion. That is the first time anyone has asked me about my faith, and the first time I’ve talked to a stranger about what I believe. Well, I asked God to open up “God moments” (little random opportunities to spread God’s love) and to help me recognize them when they show up. He certainly did.
Day 2: Akihabara and Maid Cafes
I woke up at 7:20 AM after sleeping 11 hours. I didn’t realize how sleep deprived I was. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night any more than usual, so no jet lag trouble. Now, with a sleep-fresh brain, I feel so much better. My living arrangements don’t seem so bad, I’m excited to do things today, and especially excited to use Japanese. Yesterday I wasn’t assimilaing very well. In the back of my mind, I think I resented the fact that after so much traveling, I didn’t have a nice, familiar, comfortable place to go and rest. But it’s okay now.
R offered to take me to Akihabara, the anime center of Japan. That, and also a concert. Last night, I wouldn’t stomach the idea of doing anything at al. But today, after sleeping, with the morning sun trickling under my curtains, I’ve decided to take him up on it. And I’m really excited!
My room stayed nice and toasty and my bed was cozy and warm. I was skeptical, since it’s a futon on a bed spring with lots of fuzzy blankets, but it was very comfortable.
Here in Japan, I have a weird problem that I didn’t think I’d have. Even with all I know because of anime, I’m still lost and I have to literally force myself to repsond in Japanese. I feel like everyone is a weeaboo, responding in Japanese and acting in anime-like ways. But this is their country! Anime is based off of them! They are the originals! In America, I put effort into not behaving that way. I guess I should let my inner weeaboo out and to be as anime as my little heart desires. That way things will go smoother and I’ll be much happier.
R and I rode bicycles to a bicycle parking area where we can leave our bikes all day for just 100 yen. On the way, we stopped by the 100 yen store (think Dollar Store) and I got a hat and gloves. It’s seriously cold in Japan, even thought the temperatures aren’t much lower than Oregon. My only guess is it’s because the air is drier and there’s lots of cold wind. Boy did those hat and gloves make a difference.
We went to the train station and R helped me get a 2000 yen train pass, that way I don’t have to buy a ticket every time I take the train. I can just scan my card over the card reader, and the gates open. It’s reloadable, too, and it will work even if I go home for a couple years and come back.
Akihabara! Anime, J-Pop, and electronics as far as the eye can see. Also, the land of maid cafes. So many maid cafes, and at least one host club (male equivalent to a maid cafe. Instead of cute girls serving you drinks, you have cute boys.). R and I went to one called Maidreamin.
Maid cafes are not at all what I expected. They aren’t creepy, even though there’s no way to explain them to a western audience without making them seem that way. But I’ll do my best. A maid cafe is a place where you go and get parfaits, drinks, or food and are waited on by super cute girls in costumes–usually maid costumes, but we passed a couple that wore kimonos, or some kind of kimono-style robe. The girls who wait on you are super friendly and they take pictures with you. They are there to serve you and to make you happy.
Sound creepy yet? Trust me, it’s not. I figured maid cafes were something you saw in animes but were less sparkly in real life, like night clubs (no, I don’t like night clubs). But they’re not. For one thing, they aren’t just for guys who want to be waited on by pretty girls. Lots of girls go there, too, sometimes with a group, sometimes by themselves. The atmosphere is light, friendly, and safe.
I had a lot of fun at Maidreamin. I got a 2080 yen package that included a parfait, a drink, a keychain, and a picture with one of the maids. I got a vanilla parfait made to look like a cat and a cup of hot tea with milk and sugar. R and I talked about Christianity and our experiences with the church. (I swear, I’m not instigating these conversations. They just keep happening!). Apparently there are a fair amount of Christian churches in Tokyo, but the closest one with an English service is a 500 yen train ride there, and 500 back. Pretty expensive for regular attendance.
Walking down one of the streets in Akihabara, there are maids handing out fliers for their cafes. I ended up with three or four, and I got one from a host club, too.
R knows a few of the band members in a J-Pop band called Alice 10 (pronounced “Alice Ju-bon”). We were going to see one of their shows today, but it was 3000 yen on weekends, compared to 1500 on weekdays, so we decided to come back on a weekday.
Just after one day, I’ve gotten so much better at Japanese and at getting into the rhythm of the culture. Akihabara (usually shortened to Akihaba) is an interesting place. It’s big and crowded, and yet it’s so safe and clean! As an American, it boggles my mind how those can go together. The streets don’t smell like cigarette smoke, unlike American cities; in America, the bigger the city, the more it smells like cigarettes, especially in alleys.
That’s another thing: back alleys aren’t sketchy in Japan. I felt very safe the entire time in Akihaba, and everywhere else I’ve been, even after dark, which is a big deal because I’m always paranoid I’m going to get mugged or kidnapped whenever I’m in cities. I haven’t had anything even close to trouble here in Japan. No catcalls. No creeps. No groups of men loitering in dark places or doorways. Everyone I’ve come across has been courteous, friendly and respectful.
Having said that, though, I learned that Roppongi is not a good place to go after dark. Lots of “massage” parlors, if you get my meaning. People getting in your face and demanding your money. Very sketchy.
R and I bought dinner and brought it home, but then went back to the grocery store because I had forgotten to buy sugar for my coffee and I didn’t want to keep using his. There’s a shop a couple streets down from the place I’m staying that sells freshly-cooked meat and pre-made bentos (pre-made meals, I guess) that are still warm. I got dinner for 270 yen, which is less than $2.70. And it was good and filling. Most of those kinds of bentos run 400-500 yen, which still isn’t bad.
By 7:40 PM, I’m back home and doing quiet things before bed. People go to bed very early here. 8:30 is a pretty normal time to go to sleep, at least in this house. My guess is that it’s because it’s already been dark for 2-3 hours and it’s so cold, so it’s nice to curl up under a warm blanket and go to sleep. Also, the day starts early, so it’s good to go to bed early. I have my first class tomorrow at 8 AM, so I’ll probably be climbing into bed and turning off the lights by 10 PM (I would have gone to bed at 9 or 9:30, but I wanted to get this posted). No bath for me tonight. Maybe tomorrow.
A/N: I thought about giving each day its own post, but day one was mostly traveling and sadness, and I thought that pairing it with a better day would make it less depressing. I hope it worked.